Day Trips: Big Bend Fossil Discovery Center

Discover Big Bend National Park’s fossilized past at new center


Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

The Fossil Discovery Exhibit tells the hidden story of Big Bend National Park. Beneath the towering peaks, rolling hills, and parched desert floor are 130 million years of fossilized records.

On the surface, the ferocious beauty of the landscape is enough to attract visitors to this unique place. Since July 1, 1944, the National Park Service has protected the more than 1,200 species of plant and animal fossils found in the park. Many types of fossils were first discovered in Big Bend or are unique to the park, including Quetzalcoatlus northropi, the largest known flying creature.


The story of life in Big Bend begins with much of Texas covered by a shallow sea. As the Rocky Mountains began to rise, so did West Texas, and the coastline receded to the east. After the extinction of the dinosaurs due to long-term climate change, the area became a river flood plain and ultimately part of the Chihuahua Desert. Volcanic eruptions and centuries of silt created layers of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock.

At the fossil exhibit, a life-sized model of a flying pterosaur skeleton discovered in the park in 1971 soars over the bronze replicas of Deinosuchus and Tyrannosaurus rex skulls. Facsimiles of the fossils found in the park and murals of what the monsters might have looked like fill the open-air rooms.


The Fossil Discovery Center is the perfect introduction to Big Bend National Park. The free exhibit is off Highway 385, 59 miles south of Marathon and 8 miles north of Panther Junction Visitor Center. The park contains the most diverse geological formations and fossils from the widest time frame of any national park. Before you go, check out www.fossildiscoveryexhibit.com.


1,4545th in a series. Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a travel blog, at austinchronicle.com/daily/travel.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Fossil Discovery Exhibit, Big Bend National Park, National Park Service, Marathon, Panther Junction Visitors Center

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